Additive manufacturing (AM) has gained a firm foothold in industry. Islands of 3D printing are increasingly becoming end-to-end integrated solutions that join up all the links in the value chain from design to final product, and make an important contribution to resilient and sustainable supply chains. The dynamics in the development and application of new materials, methods and processes were illuminated in striking fashion in the lectures, discussions and presentations held at the 19th Rapid.Tech 3D conference and trade fair, which took place in Erfurt between 9 and 11 May 2023. The approximately 2,700 visitors from Germany and abroad praised the high quality of the specialist conference and trade exhibition.
“The 19th Rapid.Tech 3D has demonstrated once again that Erfurt is a key platform where professionals can exchange practical, user-focused ideas on additive manufacturing. We’re delighted with the positive feedback and would like to thank everyone who helped make the event such a success,” said Michael Kynast, CEO of Messe Erfurt GmbH.
Inspiration for specific applications and new pathways
More than 70 expert lectures and 93 exhibitor presentations provided inspiration for concrete applications and new approaches using advanced technologies. They highlighted AM trends such as multi-material processing and multi-function integration, as well as the scaling of part sizes and quantities. As to where things are headed in the next few years, the keynote speakers in particular provided some road maps. Franco Pinna from Ferrari showed that the Italian sports car manufacturer intends to use AM more for weight reduction and function integration in the future, in addition to prototyping and spare parts production. Anja Rupprecht and Markus Bähr from Diehl Defence addressed the issue of managing diverse AM applications in a corporate group via a platform for the exchange of knowledge and experience. In addition to established plastics- and metal-based AM processes, the team is working on the processing of fibre composite plastics in 3D printing in order to close a gap in the production of qualified series parts.
New 3D printing pathways for the chemical industry
The visionary Swiss car designer Frank Rinderknecht from Rinspeed called for new opportunities to be identified and seized, arguing that the all-too-often heard refrain “it can’t be done” should give way to an attitude of “let’s give it a go”. Almost limitless in what they can offer, additive and digital technologies are ideal in this scenario, he remarked. The chemical industry is also breaking new ground in 3D printing. Jurjen Meeuwissen, senior researcher at Shell, reported on the current state of research regarding the 3D printing of catalysts for gas-to-liquid processes. Its design freedom enables the boundaries of traditional catalyst production to be broken down. With more powerful catalysts, processes can run more efficiently and save energy. The status and prospects of 3D printing in chemistry and process engineering were also the subject of the trade forum of the same name, which was held for the first time and welcomed to Erfurt experts from KAUST Catalysis Center in Saudi Arabia as well as BASF and Accenture, among others.
Aerospace: an AM pioneer
Aerospace is one of the trailblazing sectors in AM. Dr Steffen Beyer, manager of SprayLab Additive Manufacturing & Industrialization at the Ariane Group, illustrated that the LBM process embarked on years ago is now an established metal 3D printing process. He also demonstrated how parts manufactured using this technique have been successfully qualified and indeed have already seen lift-off in the Ariane 5 rocket. For the current Ariane 6 project, the AM experts are working on producing combustion chamber components faster and thus significantly more cost-effectively than before using directed energy deposition (DED) processes. In particular, the potential of cold gas spraying is being explored for this purpose.
Current AM issues were discussed in greater depth in the nine trade forums. In addition to Chemistry & Process Engineering, another new forum, Post-Processing & Quality Assurance, was on the programme. It examined the very topics that AM users are most concerned about: designing and guaranteeing end-to-end and reproducible AM process chains. Industry and technology-specific AM innovations were on the agenda in the trade forums Design, Medicine, Mobility, Aviation, Software & Processes, and Innovations in AM. The latest findings from AM research were presented at the Science forum.
Innovations at first hand
Visitors got a hands-on experience of innovations at the trade exhibition. AIM3D from Rostock unveiled its new multi-material printer which can print metal, ceramic and plastic products—including as hybrid components—based on standard injection moulding pellets, and without needing to modify the equipment. A group of researchers from Leipzig University of Applied Sciences (HTWK Leipzig) and Mittweida University of Applied Sciences demonstrated how heavy-duty façade nodes made of coarse steel can be produced additively much more economically than conventional aluminium nodes. The long-standing Rapid.Tech 3D exhibitor FIT, from Lupburg in Bavaria, once again showcased the variety that additive manufacturing has to offer. Visitors to its stand could try out robust additively manufactured furniture made from bio-based plastics, among other things. There were also high-tech micro medical products on show, such as patient-specific aortic stents that can be implanted in a minimally invasive way, which FIT presented at the specialist conference. The potential of additive manufacturing for a sustainable circular economy was demonstrated by the researchers of the SAMSax project. In this real-world laboratory at TU Bergakademie Freiberg, teams from Saxon universities are working on processing residual materials from industry and agriculture in such a way that they can be used to additively manufacture new products.
Numerous other established suppliers and users in the AM sector, such as Arburg, Farsoon, Intamsys, Sinterit, Stratasys, Toolcraft and Trumpf, as well as innovative start-ups and university projects, presented their current range of services in Erfurt.
The enormous potential of 3D printing was once again embodied by the finalist exhibits of the 3D Pioneers Challenge competition, first and foremost the winning project by French start-up Lattice Medical. The team has developed a fully absorbable bio-prosthesis for natural, simple and risk-free breast reconstruction following a mastectomy.
Greater cooperation with national and international partners
Now in its 19th year, Rapid.Tech 3D has also indicated the directions it will be taking in its future development. This includes even stronger cooperation with partners and multipliers at a national and international level. The Additive Manufacturing Working Group within Germany's mechanical engineering industry association VDMA will thus serve as the conceptual sponsor of Rapid.Tech 3D starting in 2024. On the fringes of this year’s event, the executive board and the VDMA’s AM Working Group held extensive talks with Messe Erfurt management on what shape this partnership will take. The AM Working Group will be closely involved in determining the content of the conference and the trade exhibition. The VDMA has already been involved this year with a format on the topic of education. In collaboration with the Building 3D network, the AM Working Group organised a panel discussion on the criteria for successful education and training in additive manufacturing. Experts from industry and education discussed approaches for matching supply with demand regarding employee qualifications.
Multi-year cooperation agreed with Indian AMTech Expo
Knowledge exchange is also a key aspect of collaboration with Indian partner AMTech Expo, India’s largest business networking platform for additive manufacturing technology. As an overarching goal of the multi-year partnership agreed in Erfurt, both sides want to advance the AM ecosystems of both countries. The mutual support provided as partner events is intended to promote the transfer of expertise and technology between the AM communities of India and Germany.
Anniversary event 2024
The next Rapid.Tech 3D is set to take place from 14 to 16 May 2024, marking its 20th year.
Further information at: www.rapidtech-3d.de
Jonathan Hodel, Mechanical Technician, Dyze Design, Lemoyne, Canada:
Our company exhibited at Rapid.Tech 3D six years ago. This time around, we were back in Erfurt, all the way from Canada, to present our further developed range of extrusion systems. These include products such as hotends, extruders and sensors, which form the heart of filament 3D printers, so to speak. We got to hold some promising talks at Rapid.Tech 3D with the aim of expanding the international distribution of our systems. Our stay in the beautiful city of Erfurt also added to the great atmosphere.
Dr. Kerstin Michalke, Research Associate in the Manufacturing Technology/Automation Working Group, Model Factory Virtualisation, Ernst Abbe University of Applied Sciences Jena, Germany:
The transfer of knowledge on additive and digitalisation topics as well as industry networking are focal points of our work. Rapid.Tech 3D offers a fantastic springboard for this. Here we can meet potential partners from the SME sector in particular. This year's event has enabled us once again to establish interesting contacts and enjoy some in-depth discussions. It was noticeable how the event was more international than in previous years.
Martin Slotty, Sales Manager, Krumm-tec, Endingen, Germany:
Rapid.Tech 3D is a major trade fair for us. As expected, we welcomed expert visitors who were interested in our cleaning plants and filter systems. They came mainly from central Germany as well as from Hesse, Bavaria and North Rhine-Westphalia. What we appreciate about Erfurt is how well organised it is and the fact that you can make regional contacts here which you won’t find at similar events.
Dominik Stasiak, Channel Manager, Sinterit, Krakow, Poland:
Sinterit has been around for nine years, and we have been coming to Erfurt for eight of those to present our developments in innovative desktop 3D printing with SLS technology. Rapid.Tech 3D holds a special significance for us, because this is where we met an investor, the FIT Group, with whom we have been working successfully ever since. Every year we’ve been able to generate business from trade fair contacts after the event. That will undoubtedly also be the case in 2023. Plus, we always look forward to Erfurt because it’s a chance to meet partners that we’ve grown friendly with, because it’s got excellent transport connections and other infrastructure, and because there’s a committed team at Messe Erfurt that takes very good care of the exhibitors. We will most definitely be back for the 20th Rapid.Tech 3D next year.
Markus May, Managing Director, 3Faktur GmbH, Jena, Germany:
Rapid.Tech 3D is a fixture on our trade fair schedule. We appreciate the combination of specialist conference and trade exhibition. This combination attracts very knowledgeable visitors from the different sectors of both large companies and SMEs. As a specialist in additively manufactured plastic components using the multi-jet fusion process, which are applied in various industries such as automotive, mechanical engineering or medical technology, we usually succeed in gaining new customers or expanding business with existing customers. We made some promising contacts again this year.
Sebastian Hohdorf, Sales Manager, FEHRMANN Materials, Hamburg, Germany:
We specialise in metal materials and aluminium alloys. As a one-stop shop, we offer high-quality metal powders for industrial 3D printing—of the finest quality, with short delivery times and at attractive prices. At Rapid.Tech 3D, we unveiled our high-performance aluminium alloy AIMgty® , which we developed in-house. It has improved mechanical properties and is qualified for metal 3D printing. We attracted great interest and made some promising contacts—an all-round success!